Chelsea Schneider, Municipal Innovations Specialist

In 2016, local governments became eligible for up to $1 million in infrastructure funding through a new state grant program. Yet, some municipalities, especially in rural areas of the state, could only access a fraction of that amount.

The reason? Realizing the maximum benefit of the Community Crossings program was out of their reach. Currently, a key requirement of the program is for cities and towns to raise equal the state funding they receive.

This year, the House’s version of House Bill 1002, the road funding bill, would ease access into the program by lowering the local share. The House establishing an 80/20 split, with the state responsible for 80 percent of the funding, would provide a major helping hand to smaller communities, local leaders say.

“I think that’s the answer,” Bicknell Mayor Thomas Estabrook said. “It gets us quite a bit farther than we are right now.”

Like many other cities and towns, Bicknell used its special distribution of local option income taxes to help cover its local share. But that was one-time funding.

“When we have to find it ourselves, it makes it quite a bit tougher,” Estabrook said. “I think the state of Indiana needs to be a significant partner in the infrastructure discussion.”

In all, cities and towns have received nearly $86 million in Community Crossings dollars, with state funding ranging from $1 million to less than $10,000 per municipality. Overall, Community Crossings is a great program, but a 50/50 split is a challenge, Loogootee Mayor Noel Harty said.

The final legislative product improving the local match would “make all the difference in the world,” Harty said.

“It’s hard for small communities to come up with funding, and people think because they pay property tax automatically that covers what’s needed for services and that, of course, is not the case,” Harty said.

Before Community Crossings, Nashville most recently did a large roads project in 2013. Now, the town is launching road improvements on 4.7 miles, constituting more than 40 percent of the town’s mileage.

Lowering the local share to 20 percent is important because “after this, we are back to square one again,” Nashville Clerk-Treasurer Brenda Young said. “We’re not going to have those reserves saved up.”

The Community Crossings program is part of a larger road funding package that’s in final negotiations at the General Assembly. This year’s road funding debate comes as local governments face a critical, $775 million-a-year need to bring local roads into fair condition. Community leaders across the state are urging lawmakers to embrace a long-term, comprehensive plan to support local infrastructure.

In Daleville, town leaders hope to apply for further grant funding from the state.

“We have a lot of new things going on in our town,” Clerk-Treasurer Amy Roberts said. “This was one more thing that will help our town grow. I feel like it’s a benefit for us.”

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